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Parsha Mitzvot: Tetzaveh: A Mitzvah For Gain

Was it permissible for any of the craftsmen who participated in the construction of the tabernacle to accept compensation? Jewish law does not permit the acceptance of compensation for the performance of a mitzvah. The Talmud (Nedarim 37a, Bechorot 29a) teaches, “One may not receive a fee for teaching Torah or healing the sick.” That teachers and physicians are paid for their services is justified by the fact that they are thereby deprived of the opportunity of earning a livelihood by other means and hence are entitled to be paid for their time if not for their service (See Shulchan Aruch, Y”D 336:2). While there has been strong disapproval on the part of  a number of great sages, and most vehemently by Maimonides, of the practice of receiving remuneration for teaching Torah(Commentary to Avot 4:5, Hilchot Talmud Torah 3:10, Kesef Mishnah), the practice of providing stipends for teachers and students has been accepted in jewelry as normal, fun were numerous reasons (Tosafot Yom Tov, Bechorot 4:6).

Nevertheless, Jews throughout the ages have sought out opportunities of performing the divine commandments in the face of financial losses. The performance of the mitzvah afforded a gratification that could not be evaluated in monetary terms. Individuals who were capable of performing highly specialized religious services were delighted when ever an occasion to carry them out presented itself. The mitzvah of circumcision, which requires great skill and training, was one of the Mitzvot which provided an opportunity for specialists to fulfill for the sake of the mitzvah without accepting a fee. In the day of the great rabbinic sage, Rabbi Shlomo Ibn Aderet of Barcelona, a problem arose in a Spanish Jewish community concerning the right of a Mohel to demand a fee for his work:

A certain Mohel who year after year had performed his services gratis, for some unknown known reason decided no longer to perform the mitzvah unless the father of the child would pay him the specified amount. Where the parents were in the position to pay the Mohel there could be no problem. Although the Mohelmight not have done right in changing his lifelong practice, nevertheless he was technically justified in asking for a fee to compensate for his time and trouble. However, what is to be done in the case where the father can not afford to pay?

Here we have two alternatives. Either the community must ask the father to do everything within his power to pay the Mohel, even if it meant to go begging, or the courts must compel the Mohel, in this case, to perform his service gratis.

There are instances where in an individual in order to perform a mitzvah is required to forfeit everything and even to go from house to house to obtain the funds necessary for the performance of the mitzvah. Would the ruling apply in our case?

The question which was forwarded to Rabbi Shlomo evoked a very indignant reply. The behavior of the Mohel, he declared, was inexcusable, and leads us to question whether he is truly of the seed of Abraham. In all the provinces of Spain even the poorest Mohel would seek the opportunity of performing the mitzvah of circumcision gratis, and would do everything with in his power to obtain the privilege of performing this mitzvah, where as this Mohel who is the only one in his city refuses to perform the mitzvah unless he has succeeded in making a beggar out of the father. This is a man who rejects the privilege of performing Mitzvot, and he should be strongly reprimanded.

Moreover, he is actually suffering the equivalent of a financial loss, because every blessing recited by the Mohel has a monetary value which exceeds that which he would receive for his service (Chullin 87a).

From the standpoint of Jewish law, in case the father can not afford to pay for the Mohel, he is considered as though absent and hence the obligation to perform the circumcision now devolves on the court or the community as is stated in the code of Maimonides. The community therefore has the power to coerce the Mohel help to perform circumcisions for indigent people with out remuneration.

This decision of Rabbi Shlomo implies that in the case of the mitzvah of circumcision the father need not be reduced to beggary to perform it, particularly where the courts can exercise their authority to compel the Mohel to fulfill his religious duty. Teshuvot HaRashba #1,472

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